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Friday, November 12, 2010

Artificial Ovaries - Life Imitating Art?

In my novel, The Gender Divide, women live four times as long as men by shutting down menstruation. There are a number of ramifications of this but one of them is a dramatic decline in the birth rate, especially male birthrates. In order to compensate for this, I postulated an artificial embryogenesis machine that used artificial ova.

Now it appears that the first artificial ovary has been created.  The ova were created to

“…study how ovarian cells develop and interact… “

Now the method used isn’t exactly how I envisioned the process but then again, I had a different goal in mind when I ‘created’ artificial ova.

The hero of The Gender Divide, Ryan Peters, has been treated to have the same kind of extended life as women do but the formula for how to do this has been lost. Ryan poses as his own son in order to try and retrieve the formula and so one of the side effects of using artificial ova that I postulated was the lack of the nucleotides that determined hereditary characteristics. As a result, the men who use these artificial ova to have sons (they aren’t allowed to have daughters) that either closely resemble them or in some cases are even identical in appearance.

Of course this research is still in the early stages and relies on donated material as the starting point, something that wouldn’t be feasible in the world I envisioned. However it is exciting to see research in this area, particularly since

“…it could also be used clinically to bring immature eggs to term outside the bodies of women facing cancer treatments or other fertility-hindering treatments.”

posted by David at 1:32 pm  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rare Earth Minerals

The central storyline in my novella Venus Inferno is the search for a rare earth mineral called Tellurium.

The premise is that new thermoelectric materials and improvements in energy storage and transportation have eliminated the need for fossil fuels, only to replace it with a growing demand for rare earth minerals.

I took pride in the fact that all of the major technology and concepts in Venus Inferno are real.

Ion drives are real. They are slow compared to chemical rockets but they do exist.

Tellurium is real. It really is one of the nine rarest minerals on earth and it really does fall as snow on Venus.

Thermoelectric Materials are also real. And tellurium - in the form of bismuth telluride and lead telluride - really is a working element of thermoelectric devices.

And now it appears that the shift from the need for fossil fuels to rare earth minerals is also real.

I came across an article in the Globe & Mail in late September about the delay in Chinese shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan. Once thing that caught my eye was this notable quote:

“In 1992, Deng Xiaoping, the nominally retired but still paramount leader of China, said that rare earths would be to
China as oil is to the Middle East. Estimates of the proportion of the world supply currently coming from China -
especially from Inner Mongolia - range from 93 to 97 per cent. “

There area couple of reasons why rare earth minerals are rare but the main one hindering their extraction in North America is that the deposits are small and extracting the minerals can produce radioactive waste.

Now another article claims that Chinese exports of these rare earth minerals to the U.S. and Europe are being delayed.

“… the secret embargo has widened to include the U.S. and Europe.”

This has major economic implications at a time when we can least afford it.

“The seventeen rare earths – elements like neodymium, dysprosium, and cerium – are crucial for the manufacturing of just about everything a modern economy relies upon…”

U.S companies are starting to arrange their own supplies but this can only be a short term solution. After all, there is a reason they are called ‘rare’. So perhaps it’s time to start looking past the ‘rare’ part and start looking at the ‘earth’ part.

After all,  tellurium really does fall as snow on Venus.

posted by David at 12:30 pm  

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